Friday, August 20, 2010

Why Ufology is Dying a Slow Horrible Death

I recently had an unpleasant run-in on a ufology site that I realized is pretty much emblematic of why ufology today is on the decline.

The relative dearth of good, new books on ufos and anomalous experience is not just a function of lack of public interest.

The public is definitely very interested.

No, the decline is more a function of infighting within ufology itself and a struggle between various camps for 'authority' and control.

This infighting and nastiness is killing new inquiry, since mainstream science already shies away from any real research, and now new people who are willing to take a chance on entering the discussion have to face the wrath of these little, little self-proclaimed ufology gods and make offerings to them and so forth and so on to even be allowed to speak.

Not a good way to encourage new ideas.

Within ufology there are a few major camps and you have to choose one straight up and be accepted to get any uptake--no small task in itself--and the thing is, not one of them has the whole answer:

  1. The New Agers. These folks tend to believe that aliens are here to raise our consciousness and save the planet, and often have a whole cosmology of alien types and agendas readily at hand, with complex attendant beliefs and explanations that have to be learned and publically accepted if one is to gain entrance to their temple. No matter if any of it is correct. 
  2. The Conspiracy Theorists. Be afraid, be very afraid. The government is behind every bad thing that ever happened in your life, most especially abductions and ufo sightings and remember that time you stubbed your toe when you were 8? MK-Ultra. And BTW you'd know that already if you were as informed as those in the inner sanctum but clearly you are not, hence your ignorance you ignoramus you. (Would you like a little abuse with your abuse? How about some abuse for dessert?)
  3. The Aliens-Are-After-Our-Wimmin Witch Hunters. OK, I'm just going to say it. Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs creep me out. They might be nice guys, they might have positive motives, but I have my doubts. Neither of them has had any direct experiences of UFOs or aliens, and both spend all their time sitting on the bedsides of hurting people with painful sexual memories involving aliens, luridly transcribing every word and publishing it. They brook no criticism and have already decided what is going on and who knows the most about it: Them.
  4. The Folklorists and Neoplatonists. I like these people the best because at least they are aware of the magic words, "I don't know," and are willing to say them out loud in front of others. Basically they see these anomalous phenomena as modern manifestations of something very old and very earthly. Most of them reject the entire ET hypothesis but do believe that another intelligence is at play. 
  5. The Debunkers. These folks are just annoying. They're always about 'bring me the flying saucer,' totally ignoring the fact that millions of sightings and contact reports are in and of themselves enough reason to ask, "Um, what's going on here?" One of the most famous debunkers, Joe Nickell of Skeptical Inquirer fame, spends much of his time questioning other people's credentials. He himself holds a bachelor's degree in English. Wow.

Why would I even care about the decline of a pseudoscience anyway?

Because I want a good answer, and mainstream science won't look for one. It's really that simple.

Modern science is clearly in trouble, and that means we are all in trouble. What science can't explain, it tosses aside. Plus, the language of science is so exclusive and the population at large so undereducated that only a very select few people get to participate in any scientific discussion of anything at all.

So if, like me, you are hooked by an unexplained experience or event, you're kind of doomed to roam the margins of the known, looking for like-minded others with firing brain cells. When those others bite you too, it's even worse than being gaslighted by mainstream academia.  Lots of brilliant people--Jacques Vallee being my favorite, but there are others--have given up on ufology for this reason.

Science is not bad. Science gave us radios, and computers, the electric car, and quantum physics and so forth, but one look at the world today and it's clear that something is wrong with science, epistemologically speaking. Science should not be a worldview. It's more like a tool, like a hammer.

To a guy with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Hence, ever since the 17th century, science has been like a runaway truck barrelling backwards down a mountainside. It's a very powerful tool, yes, but if you don't know how to drive and you don't have a map, well, stuff goes wrong and keeps going wrong, faster and faster. (Kind of like now.)

The pace of change today is so ridiculous that geezers like me have to buy cell phones by the six pack because by the time the one we own breaks, we'll need all new skills when its time to replace the damned thing. (Seriously, some of us just want to make phone calls on them. That's really true.)

We know how to punch holes in the bottom of a sea bed and to get to oil two miles down, but we don't know what to do if something goes wrong. We know how to make chickens grow to three times their normal size and pop eggs out of their mouths (OK I just made up that second thing), but we have no idea what effect that will have on the humans who eat them. We'll figure we'll invent something later to fix that.

Sure we will.

So I'm interested in fixing that flaw, that runaway train quality to modern life, by finding a way to ground us culturally, and I think that UFO phemonena offer a way into that. I think that for a lot of reasons. So did Jacques Vallee. So do a lot of people way smarter than me who nevertheless know better than to poke a rattling snake with a sharp stick at a ufology conference.

It isn't easy to stay open in the face of a great mystery, but what if that is exactly what is required?

It would be really nice if someone could. Or would.


  1. very good blog, congratulations
    regard from Reus Catalonia
    thank you

  2. Never worry about things you have no control over. Not happy with the current state of UFO research? Go out and do better! :O)

  3. Hi Frank. Well, that's the point of this blog and much of the work I've done in my life. Thanks coming by though. :)

  4. I want to add that I do not see constructive internal criticism as a waste of time. A community that can't tolerate criticism of its own methods and members is not a healthy community. I am not the first to raise this issue in regard to ufology and I doubt very much that I'll be the last. "Love it or leave it" is a right wing political slogan from the 60s. It makes a poor standard for inquiry and discussion.

  5. A person's time is their's to do what they want with. If a person has the talent to do quality research they should do it as the field needs it desperately. That should not be wasted as it deprives all who are interested in the phenomenon.

  6. I agree, I think you make a good point. It's hard to write in a vacuum though. That's all I'm saying. People usually write to be read. You almost have to do it knowing for its own sake and that can be tough. Thanks for your thoughts, Frank, I appreciate you.

  7. That's very nice of you to write Pamela. :O)

    The reason I say it is because while there are a few good researchers, there aren't enough and there's a lot of great material that doesn't get discovered and considered. There is both need and opportunity. Obviously, I agree with your points in this blog.